“A-Bomb” Chaplain Regretted His World War II Role

Father George Zabelka was a Catholic Chaplain with the US Army Air Forces in 1945.  He was stationed on Tinian Island, and he was the Chaplain for the aircrew who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After leaving the military the next year, Zabelka ultimately became a pacifist.

In 1980, he gave an interview in which he described his relationship with the use of nuclear weapons in World War II, his subsequent reconsideration of his prior beliefs, and where that had led him.  Zabelka died in 1992.

Last week, on the anniversary of the bombings, the Catholic San Francisco reprinted the transcript of the interview.

It is an interesting spiritual perspective on war, which was inspired by the use of nuclear weapons but was not confined to only that use of violence. 

In a 1985 speech Zabelka spoke out against “militarized Christianity,” by which he meant the belief that Christians could reconcile their faith in Jesus Christ (in Zabelka’s eyes, a pacifist) with their violent profession.  His speech was consistent with much that he said in the interview.

Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.

As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan. I knew that St. Francis Xavier, centuries before, had brought the Catholic faith to Japan. I knew that schools, churches, and religious orders were annihilated. And yet I said nothing.

Thank God that I’m able to stand here today and speak out against war, all war.

There are certainly various beliefs that oppose war, including certain denominations of Christianity.  Obviously, that belief is not universal.  The first part of a discussion on that topic can be read here:  Can a Christian Serve in the US Military?